Budget blues

City Council slashes spending in all-day budget session

City Manager David Burkland, who plans to retire in August, pitched his last budget to the City Council on June 19.

City Manager David Burkland, who plans to retire in August, pitched his last budget to the City Council on June 19.

Photo By Kyle Emery

In the afternoon portion of a marathon budget session Tuesday (June 19), the Chico City Council approved recommended cuts to community organizations, the arts and economic-development projects for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The overall budget, as proposed by City Manager Dave Burkland and the council’s Finance Committee, slashes city operational spending by about $3 million, from $83,836.309 to $80,780,029, in an effort to remain solvent and balanced in the face of tax and other revenue losses and the state’s dissolution of local redevelopment agencies. The council will vote on the final budget July 3.

Most of the savings will come from leaving vacated positions open, including four in the Police Department, two of them officers. The budget will pay, however, to keep on four officers whose federal grant is running out at the end of the year, newly hired Police Chief Kirk Trostle told the council.

Funding for the arts and community agencies comes from the city’s general fund and an allotted 15 percent of the federal community development block grant (CDBG). Housing and Neighborhood Services Director Sherry Morgado, who delivered the report on community agency spending, explained this year’s CDBG was cut by 12 percent, compounding the loss of money available for these programs.

The council approved spending $220,103 from the general fund, 98 percent of last year’s allocation, to assist 18 community agencies. The vote was 5-0, with Mayor Ann Schwab and Councilwoman Mary Goloff abstaining because they work for Chico State’s Community Action Volunteers in Education.

“The general fund is meant for core services, and I view the type of services these agencies provide as being core services to our community,” Councilman Andy Holcombe said.

Councilman Bob Evans disagreed with Holcombe’s view of core services, saying his was more limited to safety and roads, but agreed the agencies provided needed services “cheaper than the city could do it.”

Art Projects Coordinator Mary Gardner presented the Arts Commission’s recommended allocations to organizations and individual artists reflecting Burkland’s proposed 12 percent cut plus a $1,500 donation from artist Christine Jennings. Jennings, Gardner explained, was a two-time recipient of a mini grant from the city and wanted to give back to the community.

Just as one returned grant gave the budget a boost, questions about another returned grant—from artist Janice Porter, who was unable to use $2,000 due to illness—fueled the afternoon’s only controversy, which bled into the discussion about funding economic development and tourism.

Monica McDaniel-Berg read a letter to Burkland on behalf of the Chico Arts Foundation explaining the Upstate Community Enhancement Foundation would be disqualified from an already approved $12,000 matching grant from the California Arts Council if it did not receive an equal amount from the city. The proposed budget allots the group $10,000 for the 2013 Artoberfest marketing campaign. The letter further suggested Porter’s returned grant could be used to make up the difference.

A handful of community members spoke about the importance of Artoberfest to the local economy. Goloff said she didn’t disagree with the suggestion, or with Artoberfest’s value, but questioned whether it set a bad precedent for organizations to apply for matching grants based on what they expected to receive from the city rather than what could actually be provided.

“My question is whether a grant application was submitted indicating there would be a $12,000 match from the city before you knew there would be a $12,000 match,” Goloff said to Debra Lucero, UCEF director. Lucero said the organization received $20,000 last year, and she wrote the grant the same way she has since Artoberfest began seven years ago.

Mayor Ann Schwab added, “I think there’s a roomful of people here who have received less money than they anticipated receiving this year as opposed to last year who would also like to position themselves to get more but weren’t able to do that.”

The proposed arts funding passed the council unanimously.

The council also eventually passed the proposed spending of $110,000 on economic development and tourism—with an addendum that Porter’s returned grant be redirected to UCEF—by a vote of 5-2. Evans used his no vote to express his disappointment that spending in this area was decreased by 34 percent. Councilman Mark Sorensen gave the other no vote.

“I’m voting no not because I’m against economic development but because I’m for economic development,” Evans said. “Of all the categories we’re giving money out to, this is the one that’s got payback. Cutting spending like that is not sending the right message to local businesses, that we are serious about economic development.”